America • Baseball • Center for American Greatness • Congress • Donald Trump • History • Identity Politics • Terrorism • The Culture • The Resistance (Snicker) • Uncategorized

When Words Kill

As every young American is taught (or used to be taught) the Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech. “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

We can say whatever we want. And that’s as it should be. Societies constraining the freedom of speech have invariably slid by degrees from centralized authoritarian control to totalitarian despotism.  Dissent is silenced. Liberty dies.

But do First Amendment liberties imply a corresponding civic duty, a responsibility to voluntarily restrain ourselves; to understand that words have consequences?

In January, 1945 Paris had been liberated for five months, but German armies still contested pockets in Alsace-Lorraine and the Atlantic coast. Even though the Vichy government had been routed and de Gaulle’s provisional government had assumed power, Paris was a haunted, anxious place. Apprehension and revenge were still in the air.

Most of the summary justice and settling of scores were over. The French legal system had been restored. If there was any further retribution meted out to collaborators it would be done legally, adhering to tradition and law. It was in this atmosphere that judges, attorneys and a jury assembled at the Palace of Justice on Ile de la Cite, mere steps from Notre Dame Cathedral, to begin a trial to ask and answer a central question: Do words matter?

During the Nazi occupation tens of thousands of Jews were arrested, transferred to detention camps and thereafter loaded on to trains to the East. As the world later learned, most were murdered in Auschwitz. By early 1945, Vichy officials directly responsible for these crimes had been tried, convicted, executed or imprisoned. Others were in hiding or had already fled the country.

Robert Brasillach

What made the trial just starting at le Cite so unusual was that the defendant, facing the death penalty, had had no direct part in any of these crimes. He was not a politician, a policeman, a government functionary, a jailer or even an informer. In fact, he was never accused of reporting on the whereabouts of a Jew in hiding, of revealing the true identity of a Jew posing as a non-Jew or in “fingering” anyone. The defendant was on trial for the words he wrote.

Robert Brasillach had been the editor of the collaborationist Je Suis Partout (I Am Everywhere) during the Occupation. In this role he penned a host of pro-German and anti-Semitic essays noted for their vitriol.  

The questions before the convened jury as well as French public opinion were these: Were Robert Brasillach’s words, both spoken and written, responsible for the actions of others? Did Brasillach provide the moral, ethical and philosophical rationale for the crimes of the Vichy government, their politicians, functionaries and enforcers? Did his words incite vigilantes and individuals in acts of intimidation and violence against ordinary Parisians accused of undermining the regime or participating in the Resistance?

In other words, can the person who encourages violence be held accountable for the violent actions of the person so encouraged?

Brasillach’s paper during the Occupation

Due to the protections of the First Amendment cited above, US citizens are shielded from government interference with the irresponsible expression of their free speech. But that doesn’t imply they are immune to fierce criticism and censure from their fellow citizens.

In countries without equivalent Constitutional protections, as was the case in France in 1945, the State could circumscribe limits on speech and could exact legal punishments for infractions. The prosecution in his trial argued that Brasillach’s years long series of published jeremiads had poisoned the atmosphere and resulted in harm, indeed death, to others.

Brasillach was an important literary figure in France, a member of its intellectual elite, which was split on his fate.  Jean-Paul Sartre and others argued that the writer/artist is always responsible for what he writes or says and must be held accountable by society and law.  Albert Camus and other prominent writers, artists and journalists argued that the writer/artist must never be constrained or subject to censorship or retribution in any way, regardless of what he says or writes, because to do so would be to weaken the exercise of free expression, which is the foundation of a free society.

In the event, as the jury was stocked with veterans of the Resistance and the judge had been tainted by his previous association with the Vichy regime, the verdict was not surprising: guilty. The sentence: death by firing squad.

James Hodgkinson: Left-wing protestor

Many of those who had argued for Brasillach’s culpability were appalled, appealing to de Gaulle to commute the sentence. It was signed by many of France’s greatest writers and artists: Francois Mauriac, Paul Valery, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Arthur Honegger, Jean Anouilh. De Gaulle gave it a momentary glance; then turned it down. “The intellectuals also have their responsibilities,” he said. Brasillach was executed the next day.

Robert Brasillach remains one of very few citizens in free Western societies to be executed for “intellectual crimes” rather than military or political actions. His sensational trial is worth remembering at this particularly contentious and potentially dangerous moment in our own national saga.

As Americans we would never countenance the State to intervene in the limitation of free speech or in acts of coercion or retribution against any citizen because of what they said or wrote.  As Richard Corliss wrote about the travesty of the Brasillach trial, “A writer who loses his soul is not as dangerous as a nation that loses its mind.” In any case, the First Amendment constrains the government from doing so.

But it still begs the question. Even if Brasillach should not have suffered the death sentence for his writings, did his words kill? We’re not going to jail or execute writers for their words, however incendiary. But de Gaulle’s assertion remains, as a matter of moral if not legal responsibility.

Does it matter when Kathy Griffin holds up, Isis style, the bloody severed head of the president of the United States; that Madonna speaks at a rally, “I’ve thought lot of blowing up the White House;” that Snoop Dog shoots Trump in the head in a music video; that Joss Whedon tweets “I want a Rhino to f*ck Paul Ryan to death;” that Oscar winner Mickey Rourke threatens to beat Trump with a baseball bat; that Marilyn Manson kills Trump in a music video; that a ham-fisted production of Shakespeare’s play stages an exceptionally brutal assassination with Caesar cast as a blond coiffed Trump (to the approving cheers of the Central Park audience)?

If Brasillach’s words incited emotionally susceptible Parisians to turn in their Jewish neighbors, to snitch on members of the Resistance or murder dissenters of the Vichy regime; could the images and words of Hollywood celebrities, media pundits or unrestrained partisan politicians have helped incite James Hodgkinson to attempt mass murder at a baseball park in Virginia?

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2016 Election • America • Americanism • Baseball • Center for American Greatness • Congress • Terrorism • The Culture • Trump White House

Of Baseball and Bloodshed in Our Chaotic Age

The annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity is a bipartisan, bicameral contest between Republican and Democratic teams. Each side diligently practices for weeks, but it is far from toil (though the aging athlete’s aching muscles indicate otherwise). For the participants, it is an idyllic nostalgia trip that swaps the cut and thrust of the political arena for a bat and mitt on the field of dreams—one that today a gunman has turned into a scene of nightmarish violence.

Per initial reports, just past 7 a.m., as nearby a resident walked his dog, people exercised at the local YMCA and children headed for school, a man approached Eugene Simpson Stadium Park. He raised a rifle and fired “50 to 60 shots” at the assembled Republicans, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a House staffer, and two police officers. The injuries are said to be “not life-threatening.” Thankfully, the Capitol Police prevented more grievous and extensive bloodshed by killing the gunman, James Hodgkinson, as he continued his rampage. His motive remains officially unknown.

What the courageous Capitol Police or anyone could not prevent was the rampant speculation as to the gunman’s motive or the ensuing promoting of various causes however vicariously related to the attack. Inveterately, all of these responses are viewed through the speculator’s subjective political prism. Given the victims are all involved in the political process, some may excuse such conjecture and exhortations. This attack is not novel in the politicized responses it has elicited.

Yet, the more political the statement, the less logical the statement. The less logical the discourse, the more disordered our souls. The more disordered our souls, the more chaotic the age. Thus does our blindness to the verity that politics is a part of life and not life itself anesthetize and blind us to the true suffering of our fellow human beings inherent in such hideous acts of violence; and, thereby, exacerbate and accelerate this Chaotic Age.

Having participated in the Congressional Baseball game in the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent heinous shooting of our colleague, the Hon. Gabrielle Giffords, it was my impression that the ballplayers knew such an attack could happen but thought it never would.

Cynics notwithstanding, elected officials’ illusory sense of security is not due to a belief they, unlike the citizens they serve, are above and beyond the insidious reach of such threats in this Chaotic Age. No, like millions of Americans, they were rapt in the unexpected chance to escape the numbing embrace of politics; play ball; and, if only for a moment, allow the national pastime to rekindle fond memories of their past lives, when the world was full of promise, possibility, purpose, and dreams.

And made sense.

In light of Wednesday’s attack and politicized responses, we as a free people feel society further slipping beyond reason and into escalating chaos. But nothing is fated for a free people. At any time, love, wisdom and compassion are within our reach, if we have the courage but to grasp. Uneasily and agonizingly slowly, we will.

Let it commence with the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity’s post-game gathering, during which elected officials and their staffs engage not as mutually reviled partisans, but as equally respected competitors celebrating a good deed done for their deserving fellow Americans. Especially as this year’s game was also being held to honor the victims of the Manchester and London terrorist attacks, nothing is more apt or urgent than that, out of baseball’s hope and bloodshed’s horror, we may all unite to reaffirm our shared, frail humanity; the sanctity and beauty of life; and the will to recapture the sanity required to tame this Chaotic Age.

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2016 Election • America • Baseball • The Culture • The Left

Three Reflections on the Post-Election Reaction


Some scattered thoughts on the reaction of the Left to the Trump victory:

1)  I went to bed last night as reports were coming in from Los Angeles (and, apparently, across the country) of protests, demonstrations, vandalism, and even violence.

Gee. I wonder why?

An illustration:


Let this sear into your memory. Today’s Left does not seek to persuade. Worse, it does not care that it is not persuasive. They don’t care that their condescension, bullying of dissenters, and emotional outbursts were precisely the behavior that cost them this election—though they reserve the right to engage in more of it if you do not comply with their demands.

They do not care because they do not think they must persuade. Persuasion would imply that there is more than one way to understand or approach a problem; that the human mind can be moved by reason and that reason is thing. They do not believe this. Their “arguments” take on the character of heated assertions so often because the governing philosophy of the Left is that opinion should just “evolve.” It is not about persuasion. It is about growing. So you have either grown or you haven’t.

There is nothing for the “evolved” crowd to do in the face of that but to signal their evolutionary superiority and to shame others who have not reached the same pinnacles. If you have observed the phenomenon of a committed leftist (especially a campus leftist) devolving into a muttering ball of tears and anger, you know how the attempt to argue with them usually proceeds. They can’t make arguments because they don’t actually believe in them. First they look at you in disbelief. Then they make it known that you are not much better than dirt and deserving of treatment equal to your station.

For these outbursts you can thank 50 years of piss-poor education in American civics, the devolution of our constitutional order in the face of a Progressive onslaught against its institutions, the hyperventilating, lying, unscrupulous press (and their willing accomplices in the NeverTrump right), and a handful of other factors I am probably forgetting right now but all contributing to this result: When significant numbers of people hysterically believe the country just elected Hitler, what do you expect?

2)  In the wake of two Obama victories, I do not recall the political/media/entertainment/education complex having any abiding concern for the “disappointed half” of the country. There were not psychologists on the morning news programs offering solutions for dealing with depression and anxiety. There were not grief counselors brought into the schools to deal with weepy students, or safe-spaces created for them at the colleges and universities. Professors did not cancel classes and take their students to the LGBT center to make “glitter jars” and “decompress.”

Further, I do not recall sympathetic coverage of the Tea Party rallies (where no violence or vandalism occurred) from those now seeking to “understand” the violence, disruption, and vandalism happening in our streets right now. I recall mocking and derision.

As my good friend, Fred Bills, said:  “It’s Thursday, November 10, 2016. And if you still believe that 59,611,678 of your fellow Americans are bigots, then perhaps you’re the bigot.”

3)  While I generally oppose and reject the notion that Americans are made of jelly and I find well-intended but strained pleas for civility in the face of things that do not deserve a civil response off-putting, I do have a proposal that could have the desired effect without being a smarmy attempt to paper over our differences:

In election years, the MLB should move the World Series to begin after the election. Watching baseball together would be good about right now.

2016 Election • America • Baseball • Hillary Clinton • The Culture • Uncategorized

Looking for a Save in Extra Innings

old-baseball-scoreboardOver at Ace of Spades on Wednesday I was reminded of this great scene from Field of Dreams:

And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.” Field of Dreams, 1989

Baseball remains a respite from the worries and troubles of our lives, including our politics. And so it has been for well over a century and a half. Through Civil War, two World Wars, flu pandemics and cultural unrest, baseball has survived and thrived. On long and lazy summer evenings while listening and watching, kids who only have a stick and a ball could dream of being that player who wins in a walk off.  Parents have been teaching the game to their children in backyards in every part of the country since 1845.

The past 10 days have been a dream for those of us now weary of the scandals and the acrimony of this presidential campaign.

It was a World Series that didn’t want to end. Seven games, extra innings, and even a rain delay. Every pitch was a story. Two cities—long suffering—were embroiled in a contest that could have been won by either team. And even as Cubs fans cheer their victory, their respect and even love for Cleveland and the Indians was a great reflection of the goodness of our people and our country. Baseball fans not wildly devoted to one or the other team hated to see either team lose. And all of America seemed to be watching.

But now that the games are over, we have less than a week to make a decision. Both sides seem to believe the election of the other poses an existential threat to the country. A woman so beset by scandal and corruption that even Shoeless Joe Jackson would be embarrassed, and an amateur politician who sometimes appears to be unable to close the deal on a deeply flawed opponent.

Hillary Clinton is not worthy of the office. She’s not worthy of our country. She’s not worthy to lead us. Perhaps America will do the right thing and send her and her husband to the retirement they so richly deserve.

But in the event voters make a terrible mistake, we need to be confident that we can prevent her from ending the game. With the memory of that which can still make life in America sweet still fresh in our minds, let us redouble our efforts to preserve and protect the things we hold dear. And even if she takes the oath of office in January, baseball will be played in April and Indians fans can dream of baseball in November once again.